Two by two MUSIC

London Musici / Rambert Dance Company St John's Smith Square,
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The Independent Culture
Last year London Musici, the chamber ensemble set up in 1988 by Mark Stephenson, became Rambert Dance Company's house band. That new creative focus shapes the orchestra's series at St John's Smith Square: in each of three concerts, the premiere of a new work will be choreographed and danced by Rambert performers. St John's sightlines are not ideal for dance, but this first concert suggests that the combination of orchestral concert and dance fires the composer's imagination in ways that a straightforward commission might not.

Roxanna Panufnik turned to the poet Catullus for her title, Odi et amo ("I love and I hate"). A love-hate relationship is quintessential 20th- century, but Catullus got there first and, while she didn't set his text, Panufnik found musical equivalents for his sardonic sexiness. Nor did she ignore the dancers. Unsurprisingly, Mark Baldwin made the piece a pas de deux, for Hope Muir and Steven Brett. Panufnik explained in the programme that Muir had "a passion for the trumpet" and there it was, setting each of the work's three sections in motion with scorching bluesy rasps.

The notion of a pas de deux structured Panufnik's orchestration, which divided half the musicians into couples (sexual connotations are apt): trumpet and percussion, cor anglais and bass clarinet, harp and guitar; a colourful line-up supported by piano and string sextet. Panufnik attacked - not too strong a word - the instruments with gleeful malice. The harp produced wonderfully fruity fuzztones, courtesy at one point of a hairbrush dragged over the strings; cor anglais and bass clarinet moaned sulkily at each other; thumping percussion, extravagant string glissandi and, briefly, orchestrated heavy breathing, provided an aural equivalent of Catullus' eroticism.

Baldwin's choreography was less eager to breach convention; much of the movement might have graced a Gene Kelly movie. Still it was sensuous, with wry touches: when the woman slaps the man, he responds with some Charles Atlas routines; and in the end, he is mere furniture, a table on which she leans disdainfully. Panufnik's piece stands without the dance, but there's no doubt that a physical enactment of the music drew the listeners in.

No dancers in the rest of the programme, but the soloist Isa Lagarde was a strong visual presence in extracts from Hans Werner Henze's operetta La Cubana. Like many of the most interesting new voices, hers has benefited from training in early music, yet in this playful pseudo-Kabarett piece she was modern, bright and fluttery one moment, blatant and chesty the next. Singing Hans Magnus Enzensberger's original German didn't aid communication; and Mark Stephenson might have got more raunch from his players; yet this was an engaging performance of a piece that reeks of theatre. An intriguing programme was completed by Michael Nyman's Where the Bee Dances, with Gerard McChrystal the soloist; and by Britten's Prelude and Fugue, with strings a little on the thin side. A very promising series.

n Further concerts 12 July, 9 Dec

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